© 2024 WFAE

Mailing Address:
8801 J.M. Keynes Dr. Ste. 91
Charlotte NC 28262
Tax ID: 56-1803808
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Johnson C. Smith University hosts a nonpartisan forum to attract young voters

A crowd gathered for a student-led nonpartisan forum at Johnson C. Smith University on April 18, 2023.
Elvis Menayese
/
WFAE
A crowd gathered for a student-led nonpartisan forum at Johnson C. Smith University on April 18, 2023.

People gathered at Johnson C. Smith University Tuesday to discuss ways to get college students and young adults more involved in local elections.

About two dozen people were inside a hall at the university's campus. Students from the historically Black college and Northwest School of the Arts talked about how to boost young adults’ participation at the ballot box.

Justin Nixon, a 19-year-old Johnson C. Smith University student, was one of the four student panelists that spoke at the forum. He said civic engagement is important, and it’s critical that younger generations understand the impact of local elections.

“We get too caught up in the hype, or the national, federal government issues,” Nixon said. “And never pay enough attention to the local matters that affect them a whole lot more than federal policy and federal laws and decision-making.”

Henry Andrade Fuentes of Northwest School of the Arts (far left) and JCSU students Kyndal Ragins, Essence Winston, and Justin Nixon (far right) spoke to the crowd at the event.
Elvis Menayese
/
WFAE
Henry Andrade Fuentes of Northwest School of the Arts (far left) and JCSU students Kyndal Ragins, Essence Winston, and Justin Nixon (far right) spoke to the crowd at the event.

Nixon participates in a democracy fellowship program with Common Cause North Carolina, one of the organizations behind the event. As a fellow, Nixon works to increase civic engagement and encourage people on college campuses and surrounding communities to become lifelong participants in democracy.

Jessica McDonald was at the back of the room. She’s a JCSU student and another fellow in the program. She said the forum is one step in ensuring students know the importance and impact of their words in society.

“Their voices matter, and change can’t happen if they don’t come out to town halls and events like this to voice their concerns and voice their opinions,” McDonald said.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement reports that youth turnout rates in the 2022 midterm election ranged from as high as 37% and as low as 13% in some states.

In North Carolina, the data revealed that about 23% of voters age 18-29 cast a ballot in the 2022 midterm election. Last year’s number in North Carolina is slightly lower than the 2018 turnout, where it’s estimated that 25% of youth (18-29) cast a ballot.

Brandon Rivers (far right) and members of You Can Vote provided information on voting at the event.
Elvis Menayese
/
WFAE
Brandon Rivers (far right) and members of You Can Vote provided information on voting at the event.

Near the entrance to the event was Brandon Rivers. He is the Charlotte Piedmont regional director of the group “You Can Vote.” Rivers sat at one of several desks, covered with leaflets and posters, providing guests with voting information. He said You Can Vote focuses on several goals.

“To make sure that all eligible citizens are registered to vote and also educated about the importance of the upcoming elections,” Rivers said. “And know the dates of the upcoming elections and understand the importance of getting out to vote in these upcoming elections.”

Rotrina Campbell, the civic engagement organizer for Common Cause North Carolina, facilitated the conversation at the podium.
Elvis Menayese
/
WFAE
Rotrina Campbell, the civic engagement organizer for Common Cause North Carolina, facilitated the conversation at the podium.

Facilitating the discussion was Rotrina Campbell, the civic engagement organizer for Common Cause North Carolina. She said the forum was designed as a nonpartisan conversation to hear different perspectives on democracy.

“It’s really about voter education and what’s best for you,” Campbell said. “I think so many people focus on what side you’re on when it should really be; what do you care about?”

Campbell said the information from the event will help high schools and colleges throughout North Carolina educate teens and young adults so they can be informed voters.

Sign up for EQUALibrium

Elvis Menayese is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race and equity for WFAE. He previously was a member of the Queens University News Service. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health.